Crowdfunding Transforms Ways for Local Creatives to Find Support

Local authors, artists find a way to raise money online for their projects

By Tim Nekritz

Through much of the modern pop culture era, if you wanted to record an album or undertake an ambitious artistic project, you either needed a) the support of a record company, publisher or wealthy patron or b) to scrape together the cash to do it yourself.

But the rise of crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter, IndieGogo, GoFundMe, Patreon and the late PledgeMusic, changed the game and turned the beat around.

You don’t have to look far around Central New York to find folks who have turned this direction to transform artistic dreams into reality.

Platforms vary in use, duration and rules. For example, if you run a Kickstarter campaign trying to raise $5,000 to make a record, and you raise $4,999.99, Kickstarter won’t enable funding on the project. This encourages realistic goals and for participants to really hustle to fulfill their campaign.

Patreon has become increasingly popular with people who have ongoing work. Musicians might use Kickstarter for a record, but Patreon for year-over-year support where patrons get a variety of rewards and the satisfaction of allowing their favorite artists to focus on creative work.

Gina Holsopple — a musician, music teacher and owner of Gina Marie Music Studio in Oswego — has used Kickstarter and Patreon in these ways.

“I’ve seen a good deal of success, at least meeting the goals that I set for myself,” Holsopple said. “I used Kickstarter, which had a finite goal with a deadline. It was more work and higher stakes, but the pressure made me do the work. I’ve also done Patreon. Its ongoing nature makes it harder to sustain, but it was a fun way to engage with folks.”

Crowdfunding is far from a magic bullet, as it involves ongoing effort, especially if perks include new unreleased songs or other items per month or year.

“It does take a lot of work and energy to maintain the crowdfunding source and engage in a sufficient enough manner to make it lucrative,” Holsopple said. “When done correctly, I think it is a brilliant way for artists and audiences to engage. As an artist, I had to make sure that I was showing up fully and completely, which isn’t always easy especially for the longer-term crowdfunding platforms.”

But crowdfunding opportunities also allow artists to better know their fans and build communities.

“I was not expecting the lovely community feel that popped up around the crowdfunding moments,” Holsopple said.

“It is not just about asking for money, and also not just a way to give artists money,” she added. “The most successful crowdfunding stories are ones where a community is engaged, created and led by the artist to begin with, but then supported and fed by the entire community as it goes. It becomes a living, breathing experience. I was new in my understanding both times I used crowdfunding platforms, but I loved the moments it created.”

Crowdfunding music education

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers is a CNY singer, songwriter, teacher and performer who literally wrote a book on the craft, “The Complete Singer-Songwriter: A Troubadour’s Guide to Writing, Performing, Recording and Business.”

Rodgers has funded an album release through Kickstarter, but uses Patreon to offer music as well as guitar and songwriting lessons on a subscription basis.

“Patreon members can download charts/notation for lessons, songs, interviews and other archive articles and more,” Rodgers said. “At certain membership tiers, they can also join live online workshops for guitarists and songwriters.”

Rodgers found promoting his crowdfunded efforts to have a learning curve.

“I’m much more of a content creator than a marketer! But people do find my Patreon through my music, books and articles, and the community has been growing steadily,” Rodgers said.

Time management and fulfilling commitments are also key.

“A major challenge of running a subscription-based service like Patreon is making sure you don’t overextend yourself — and commit to delivering more things each month than you have time and bandwidth for,” Rodgers said. “You’ve got to be careful not to burn yourself out.”

Ultimately, Rodgers was pleased to see that, in a world where people can just go on Spotify instead of paying a dime for music, plenty of fans want to support their favorites in more tangible ways.

“While many people these days no doubt expect to access music for free, there really is a substantial group of music lovers who want to support artists in a direct and meaningful way,” Rodgers said. “Patreon offers a way to do so that is effective and truly a lifeline for many creators.”

Novel experiences

Local novelist Jonathan Ashline has published two novels, “My Pocket of Fears” and “My Silent Cacophony,” by raising a combined total of more than $3,500 using Kickstarter. He will launch his third campaign this summer. He also engages with several recurring subscribers in his monthly Patreon page.

“The primary perk for my supporters is a hand-signed copy of my latest book before anyone else can purchase it,” Ashline said. “Beginning in 2023, I’ll also offer hard enamel pins designs by my cover artist, Mikhael Benson. Finally, I’ve provided the opportunity to have a character named after you or a loved one in my novel. It’s been a very popular reward tier in the past.”

The biggest challenge as an independent creator is the reason for crowdfunding – money. “It’s always a grind to keep funding your books,” Ashline said.

“The other difficulties involve wearing numerous hats when you’re independently published,” Ashline noted. “I’m in charge of the writing, commissioning artistic talent, promotion and marketing, and finally, distribution, with the help of a couple of brick-and-mortar stores in Oswego. It’s a lot to juggle, especially when your true passion is solely for the writing.”

Like others, the connections gained with fans have been a valuable part of the experience.

“Beyond the intricacies of Kickstarter and Patreon, I’ve also learned more about my fans — what they want from me as an author and also how to best interact with them,” Ashline said. “Direct sales allow a real connection between the author and the reader.”

Oswego artist Ron Throop has navigated these waters not for personal gain, but for a fundraiser for the Oswego Art Association.

“The success of the AAO Kirk Beason Gallery floor fundraiser was quite a surprise,” Throop said of the effort to honor the late board and exhibition committee member. “GoFundMe received over $1,000 in donations, and the local crowdsourcing via my exhibition of paintings received a little over $4,000.”

That success also involved selling 23 of Throop’s paintings of 20 copies of the book “The Pleasure at Being the Cause,” which also was the title of the exhibition, with proceeds supporting the organization and refinishing the floors of the new Kirk Beason Gallery in Oswego’s Fort Ontario Park. “I attribute the success as more of an example of local love for Kirk Beason and/or the Art Association, rather than popular desire for my artwork,” he said.

For Throop, that sense of community and modeling the importance of giving back were what made the crowdsourcing successful.

“I learned that it is a pleasure at being the cause for something greater than yourself,” he explained. “I’ve always known that art brings people together. This year I learned that I like being a working nothing who can make art be something more.”

Product launches

Others have used crowdfunding on endeavors that support creatives. Local entrepreneur and product manager Matt Cummins was part of a team that did so with Lume Cube, a portable lighting solution for photographers across all types of devices.

“We had an amazing amount of success and would not have been able to launch our product and business without our crowdfunding campaign,” Cummins said. “It not only provided the funding but it also gained us an early customer base that we were able to leverage to grow through word of mouth of the early crowdfunders.”

Lume Cube amassed more than $500,000 over the course of two campaigns, with 1,660 backing the initial campaign and 2,632 the second.

“If we did not deliver on the first campaign, which was the most challenging, we would have had no chance to launch #2,” he noted.

Cummins said supporters chose from perks including “Backer Pricing” discounts, special bundles and limited edition options, with the first two gaining the most traction.

“People enjoyed being the first to have the product before it was available on the market and enjoyed following along during the development — they felt like ‘insiders,’” he said. “One of the inherent ‘perks’ of being a backer is following along on the journey during the good times and the bad. I feel like people who want to back a project want that insight not just a perk or a discount.”

Cummins also noted specific challenges, such as underestimating the amount of funding required for a successful project and in how long product development and delivery would take. But transparency and communication helped maintain support.

“We were late on delivery but we provided weekly updates, were honest and transparent about our challenges and ultimately fulfilled our promises,” Cummins said. “We knew if we could not deliver and honor our backers, we would have thousands of unhappy people and a bad reputation that would sink the project before we could move forward with our long-term goals. The bulk of backers were understanding as long as we communicated and were transparent.”

For the second Kickstarter project, “we were able to learn from our mistakes and had a much smoother delivery. We had all our systems in place and had developed the product prior to launching the Kickstarter so there were no surprises with our factory,” he said.

Planning a campaign in advance is one piece of advice Cummins had, as the launch works best when most of the work is complete to better devote resources to the funding campaign, ongoing promotions and their backers.

TIM NEKRITZ is director of news and media for SUNY Oswego, where he spearheads telling the stories of the campus community.